Certain fins in the FCS range have a neutral feel. They perform predictably and reliably but don’t necessarily introduce you to a new sensation or surfing experience. The H4 is not one of those fins. The H4 is more like a rock concert playing underneath your board – they definitely demand your attention. And to be honest, if you do spend $230 (price tag for H-4) bucks on a new set of wheels you want them to wake up something different in your surfing.
For the fin aficionado, the FCS website does a great job of breaking down the complex design features and materials that have been combined to produce this fin. Think fused unidirectional carbon, differential flex patterns throughout the fin, and intuitive foils. If you tried to think about all these variables while you were doing a bottom turn, it’s likely you would end up with a face full of fins, but it does help to have some appreciation for the work that has gone into them. Fancy, fin jargon can be molded into a marketing speel that impresses people by bamboozling them, but in this instance, it certainly seems that the FCS design team has really done their homework as opposed to simply consulting a bunch of spin-doctors to come up with a slick pitch.
So enough with the semantics, how do they go?
I rode the fins in a range of conditions on a series of different boards. At their best, the fins did everything the pitch said they would and offered a pronounced sensation of speed, power and control. It’s easier for a fin-template to zone in on one of the above elements but to find synergy between all three is quite an accomplishment and the H-4, when it hits a sweet spot, certainly achieves this. There were certainly a couple of waves on the H-4’s where I kicked out buzzing with a notion that I had never surfed better (which is not necessarily saying much but it sure felt good).
When loaded up the fins delivered that exhilarating ‘shot out of a rocket’ down the line speed. Often such acceleration can make control difficult. You don’t want a drag car when you are trying to go around corners, but the fin definitely handled the velocity when you laid it over and committed to a turn. As suggested in the introduction when they are engaged the fins have a whole lot going on, but you have to be prepared to explore the possibilities and accept that things may feel a little different at first.
The main criteria for finding the Goldilocks zone (where everything feels right) on the H-4 is making sure you load the fin up. They are stiffer and more rigid than your average fin and they need to be pushed so that they push back. Think of a diving board; it’s not going to release its potential energy and deliver spring unless it is flexed by someone who knows how to load it up.
If you want to ride the H-4’s in smaller or more sluggish waves you will have to work harder. Channel your inner Tommy Carroll; push through the quads and focus on transferring the body torque and power into the fins. It will take more effort but the investment in energy will be rewarded with welcome speed and drive. Once the fins have that initial burst of speed and lift, it’s easier to maintain velocity by simply putting the board in the right part of the wave – the part that pushes back. However, if you don’t get it right they will let you know because they will start to drag.
It will be easier to ride the H-4’s in better, gruntier waves that tend to do some of the flex work for you, but again don’t be afraid to push hard. In good waves, particularly down-the-line sections, you will definitely feel like you have unprecedented speed at your disposal. You might feel that you can make sections that formerly left you behind and travel longer and deeper in the barrel. Keep in mind that this is a fin that you have to be conscious of to achieve the best results. It’s like a sophisticated racing car with several gears, you have to tune in and pay attention to get the most out of it.
One of the added bonuses was taking a board (a round tail in my case) that offered great control but lacked pick-up speed. Inserting the H-4’s added new life to the board and meant the round tail now had a much sexier combination of speed and control.
Finally, there is the question of which size fin to ride the H-4 series in. I typically ride a Large fin and elected to use Large when testing the H-4’s. It’s true, that I have heard some people complain that they can’t turn them, and if you aren’t willing to do the heavy-lifting and push the board you might be better riding a medium fin if you typically use a Large. I love my Large H-4’s but I’m looking forward to experimenting with the mediums to compare the differences and determine where one size may be preferable over the other.
In conclusion, the H-4’s validate the price tag, if you are prepared to approach them with an open mind and apply yourself. Before diving in. Ask yourself. Do you want a fin you can slot in and forget about or do you want something that offers a wildly different sensation and might make you feel like you’ve never surfed better?